Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pg. 69: "Prisoner of Trebekistan"

Bob Harris has been on Jeopardy! more than a dozen times, most recently in the 2002 "Million-Dollar Masters" tournament and the 2005 Ultimate Tournament of Champions.

He's never won a tournament; in fact, he has not won a total of over $3.1 million.

But he has written a book about his experiences on the show. It's titled Prisoner of Trebekistan and it has banked praise from The Wall Street Journal, Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Ira Glass (creator and host of This American Life), Orson Scott Card, Arthur Phillips, and many, many others.

I asked Bob to apply the "page 69 test" to his book; this is what he reported:
The page 69 test is particularly appropriate to Prisoner of Trebekistan, which is actually much less about the quiz show Jeopardy! than it is a playful memoir about finding delight in how seemingly random bits of information can help you see the world in startling new ways.

Thus, the page 69 test had better work for Trebekistan. It had better contain apparently unconnected bits of information which eventually lead to greater things. Otherwise, well, y'know, crap.

So I opened my own book with both trepidation and excitement. It turns out page 69 is the end of a discussion of my parents' rural Appalachian roots:

... producing enough food to keep all the mouths quiet was a sizable and sufficient test.

As a result, parenting skills -- at least in my parents' own experience -- were rightly judged by the percentage of children who reached adulthood with twenty fingers and toes, arrangement optional. Providing for survival was all the love there was time for.

So Dad lifted things that were too big for a man of his size. Mom still feeds people too much for their height. It took a long time to be grateful for what this actually meant. It is humbling to realize it now.

Still, our house wasn't exactly the Library of Alexandria. The few books we owned when I was very small featured Jesus as either the star or co-star. The one I remember most was a large, neatly bound Concordance of the Bible, which gave unto me a full and ceremonious list of all of the words used in the original, but rearranged by frequency of use into (if I understand this right) descending order of holiness.

If you're curious, the word "unto" turns out to be pretty damn holy -- about ten percent holier than "Lord," even. I did the math. In fact, "unto" is also almost twice as holy as "thou." But then, "all" is holier than "thou," too, so yes, everything's holier than thou, really.

All of these threads are revisited numerous times during the book. The word-soup of the Concordance, for example, presages the context-free fact-confetti of my Jeopardy! study notebooks, which require the same sort of reassembly to take on greater meaning. (I also take great comfort later in the knowledge that "kindness" occurs in the New Testament thirteen times, while "greed" only shows up five times. Then again, "ointment" is mentioned more often than either one. So live your life accordingly, I say.) Meanwhile, my mother, my deceased father, and the Snow Belt where they raised me all affect my ability to see myself, the world, and even the hints inside Jeopardy! clues clearly throughout.

So, yeah. Page 69 is plenty representative.
Many thanks to Bob for the input.

Click here to watch some short videos of Bob in action, and here to read an excerpt from the book.

For some FAQ about the book and its author, click here.

Click here to visit Bob's blog.

Click here for the complete index to Prisoner of Trebekistan. The entry for "Trebek, Alex:"
7, 9, 14-17, 20, 24, 29, 31-32, 46, 72, 79, 108, 109, 117, 123, 139, 150, 158, 164-66, 169, 174, 185, 186, 190, 193, 212-13, 245, 247-49, 251-52, 256, 262-63, 271, 272, 297, 299, 307, 309-10, 314, 318-21, 323, 324, 326; without a physical body, 2; rebooted, 6; guest announcer, Wrestlemania, 15; worshipped on tropical islands, 17; rarely talks about your nose, 24; dressed as Statue of Liberty, 31-32; disappearing into mist, 52; devising tournament format, 144; and the role of the "Oooh," 152-53; hitting players in head with clues, 180; forming as the result of quantum fluctuation, 193; his pity not needed, 211; helping the poor, 280; without pants, 320-21; witness to holy event, 326
There's much more funny and free stuff at

Previous "page 69 tests":
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue